I reached the head of the taxi line, and I didn’t spare Andreas another glance as I tossed my suitcase in the trunk and gave the driver the palace’s address.
It took almost an hour to reach the sprawling complex thanks to traffic, and my body tightened with anticipation when the familiar gold gates came into view.
It’d only been six weeks, but it felt like six years.
It was true what people said about not knowing what you had until it was gone.
After the entrance guard cleared me, I checked in with Malthe, the head security chief, then with Silas, the head of the royal household, who informed me I would stay in the palace’s guesthouse. He showed me to the stone cottage, located fifteen minutes from the main building, and rambled on about household rules and protocol until I interrupted him.
“Is Her Highness here?” I stayed at the guesthouse every time I came to Eldorra, and I didn’t need to listen to the whole song and dance again.
Silas heaved a deep sigh. “Yes, Her Highness is in the palace with Lady Mikaela.”
“The second-floor drawing room. She’s not expecting you until tomorrow,” he added pointedly.
“Thank you. I can take it from here.” Translation: Go away.
He let out another huge sigh before leaving.
After he left, I took a quick shower, changed, and headed back to the palace. It took a full half hour for me to reach the drawing room, and my steps slowed when I heard Bridget’s silvery laugh through the doors.
God, I’d missed her laugh. I’d missed everything about her.
I pushed open the doors and stepped inside, my eyes immediately zeroing in on Bridget.
Golden hair. Creamy skin. Grace and sunshine, clad in her favorite yellow dress, which she always wore when she wanted to look professional but relaxed.
She stood in front of a giant whiteboard with what looked like dozens of tiny headshots taped to it. Her friend Mikaela was waving her hands around and speaking animatedly until she noticed me.
“Rhys!” she exclaimed. She was a petite brunette with a head of curly hair, freckles, and an unnervingly perky personality. “Bridget told me you were coming back. It’s so good to see you again!”
I tipped my head in greeting. “Lady Mikaela.”
Bridget turned. Our eyes met, and the breath stole from my lungs. For six weeks, I’d only had the memory of her to cling to, and seeing her in person again was almost overwhelming.
“Mr. Larsen.” Her tone was cool and professional, but a faint tremor ran beneath it.
We stared at each other, our chests rising and falling in sync. Even from halfway across the room, I could see the pulse fluttering at the base of her throat. The tiny beauty mark beneath her left ear. The way her dress hugged her hips like a lover’s caress.
I never thought I’d be jealous of a dress, but here we were.
“You’re just in time.” Mikaela’s voice shattered the spell. “We need a third opinion. Bridget and I can’t agree.”
“On what?” I kept my eyes on Bridget, who remained frozen where she stood.
“What should rank higher when it comes to a romantic partner, intelligence or a sense of humor?”
Bridget’s shoulders stiffened, and I finally dragged my gaze away from her to Mikaela. “Rank?”
“We’re ranking the guests for Bridget’s birthday ball,” Mikaela explained. “Well, I am. She refuses. But there’s going to be so many men there, and she can’t dance with them all. We need to narrow it down. There’s one dance slot left, and I’m torn between Lord Rafe and Prince Hans.” She tapped her pen against her chin. “Then again, Prince Hans is a prince, so maybe he doesn’t need a sense of humor.”
My warmth at seeing Bridget again vanished.
“What,” I said, my voice a full two octaves lower than normal, “are you talking about?”
“Bridget’s birthday ball.” Mikaela beamed. “It’s doubling as a matchmaking event. We’re going to find her a husband!”